Saturday, January 30, 2010


On the plane to and from Tokyo back in November we were subjected to the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. I like Denzel and Travolta fine, but they can't seem to stay away from formulaic dribble that panders to the masses (who don't seem to care). They changed around the story a bit with this whole subplot of corruption in the MTA (really?), while Travolta's badman had a different, seemingly unnecessary back-story than Robert Shaw's bad-ass ringleader. The remake tried to be a more psychological thriller, but it ended up being a smarmy potboiler at best. Back in New York I re-watched the original to get the bad taste out of my mouth. It's so great, straight-forward and no-nonsense. It's like good pulp fiction - no bullshit or lots of explanations why this drastic heist is going on - it just is. And people will die. Robert Shaw's bad guy was a mercenary. He fought wars for a living. And now he wants more money so he's gonna take it from the city of New York. Simple economics. The mayor is a bumbling stooge whose staff convinces him pay the $1,000,000 ransom to save votes, not lives. Sort of an indictment of the capitalist system on par with Leone's For a Few Dollars More...maybe. Love Walter Matthau. He had this salty everyman quality that made him perfect in films like Pelham, Charley Varrick and The Laughing Policeman - the latter is what I ended up re-watching right after Pelham. It has a great raw look to it. Man, urban America in the 70's had a nice dirty, creepy, yet cool vibe - in these movies and also my memory of Manhattan as a kid. I remember White Castle on the corner, grimy gas stations, and greasy restaurants with rotisserie chickens in the window. And auto-mats. Anyway, The Laughing Policeman starts off in a San Francisco bus station and it has that sort of nasty city feel that you can really sink your teeth into right at the beginning. There's some random violence (not unlike that of the Michael Winner/Charles Bronson flick The Stone Killer) and a litany of low life cretins and oddball characters. One example is a funny, sort of dated scene with Lou Gossett Jr. as a cop reading the riot act to a mean hooker-beating pimp. Perennially creepy Bruce Dern is perfectly cast as Matthau's really annoying and arrogant new partner. There's a weird moment where they meet an informant in a cafe and then the camera cuts from Dern's gaze to a close up of a chic's ass, for no reason other than to see the ass maybe, and underline his character's creepazoid factor. Weird rhythm but it somehow works. The film quickly wraps up the conclusion and doesn't really make any sense. It was based on a popular Swedish detective novel of the same name, which I haven't read, but the Czar of Ivanlandia did read it and said the book didn't make much sense either. However, the title of the book comes from the old song, a record of which is given to the detective by his daughter as a gift. This is not in the movie though, so without knowing that you just assume the title refers to the protagonist, a somewhat sardonic detective. Wow, okay check out this plate of shrimp coincidence: I really liked Tsai Ming Liang's The Wayward Cloud, especially the ridiculous musical numbers to old Chinese pop songs. I was watching those on youtube right after I saw The Laughing Policeman and finally made the connection. Here's Hong Zhong's 'Strange Date' from The Wayward Cloud:

And then I discovered Hong Zhong's number was a cover of this old English dance hall song:

Then I found out that's where the book got it's title from. Whew. Now for something slightly different, perhaps you've already seen this bit with Chiang Kai Shek, also from The Wayward Cloud, (it says "Be Patient," but that's a mistake, it's really "Love Begins") but I dig it so here it is redundant or not:

This long trailer for The Laughing Policeman shows Matthau being salty, Dern being creepy, and Gossett acting tough. Gritty, funny, sleazy - all in all a nice bit of big studio exploitation:

No comments: